The Associated Press reported that during the boating accident that took the lives of three people--two of them NFL players--that one of the victims dove under the boat after it capsized to retrieve life jackets. Yet it is nearly impossible to properly fit a life vest while you are in the water. If they had been wearing the life jackets before their vessel capsized, it's possible that they'd all be alive today.
The Coast Guard's position is that every boater should wear a personal floatation device each time he or she leaves the dock. The data shows that those who do wear life vests are far more likely to survive a boating accident than those who don't. Yet most of us still don't wear them all the time. Including me.
There was a time when very few automobile passengers wore seat belts, despite all the evidence that showed it was a good idea. But gradually, the culture changed, and today, most people wear seat belts every time they get in a car. The culture in boating, however, has a long way to go. To expect boaters to wear PFDs whenever on board is, at this point in time, unrealistic. There are situations, however, that we should all vow to don our trusty--if annoying--day-glo orange guardians.
- Whenever the weather starts to get rough. If you wait for the weather to worsen, it may be too late. What constitutes "rough" is relative to the boat's ability to handle waves and dispense water that comes on deck. A rule of thumb: if the boat is rocking uncomfortably, it's time to get out the PFD.
- Whenever you're on a boat with a length of 25' or less in unprotected water. A large wave or wake can hit without warning and could capsize the boat or send a passenger over the side.
- Whenever you are standing on a deck with low railings or lifelines. If you lose your balance, you want to have backup protection should you topple over. Generally, any railing that goes up to your waste is safe. Between your upper thighs and your waste is a gray area, and below your thighs is a definite PFD-donning area. You should also look underneath the railings. If there is enough room for your body to fit through should you slip, be sure to wear a PFD.
- Any child 12 and under should always wear a PFD whenever on board.
Marquis Cooper, Corey Smith, Nick Schuyler, and William Bleakley were not atypical boaters except for their fame. The media coverage of their accident gave us an intimate glance at their friends and families. Though we might feel uncomfortable or embarrassed wearing a PFD, we should remember that we're not just wearing it for ourselves, but for those we might leave behind.